Refusing to Take the Bait

by Don Hall

As I am now in the full rhythms of a freelance events consulting life, some days just really need to be a Saturday-like day.

I woke up, went to the gym and then decided that I wanted some of that steam room, sauna, give me a deep tissue massage sort of day. It was a good plan. I packed up my Kindle (currently reading Shattered), my iPad (because you still need to check in with email and maybe be inspired to write), and walked the half block to Red Square.

Fist bumped the very upbeat but physically broken older guy I see almost every morning out front and settled in. After a few hours sitting in the heat, sweating, jumping into the ice bath, sweating some more, reading a bit, dozing off, it was time for my massage by a towering Russian guy who I knew was going to beat me into a rubber facsimile of a human.

Mischa is running a few minutes late and I grab some water and sit at the bar watching CNN for a moment. Just left of me is a 30-something cat in his robe drinking tea and watching as well.

The news breaks that the doctor who was beaten by police on the United Airlines flight at O'Hare has reached an undisclosed settlement and the guy to my left explodes.

"That's BULLSHIT!" he barks with no regard that we are indoors and in a public space. "Motherfucker. Private airline and if its my fucking plane and I tell you to get off, you better get the fuck off, right?"

He's directing his comments at me, looking for some aggressive American white guy simpatico.

I look at the screen, at the bartender, and him. "I guess we disagree," and I go back to my water and hope Mischa moves his ass. I'm here to relax not get into a heated exchange (which is, I admit, out of character for me.)

"Are you fucking kidding me? That fucker defies airline authorities and now, because he got a little roughed up, that little Vietnamese fuck gets, like, 50 million dollars? Fuck that! Fuck him!"

I've had my fair share of angry strident people up in my face, spouting nonsense and rage. I've been that guy. In this specific time in our world, I get it from both sides of the political spectrum. As I've grown a bit older, I'm less inclined to be as openly rage-y and do my best to find a certain balance in viewpoints. It's not easy. Balanced perspective is not terribly appreciated. I've been called a racist, a misogynist, a rape apologist, and a white supremacist by some. I've been called a Libtard, a Social Justice Warrior, a fucking hippie and a nigger-lover by others.

It used to infuriate me but not so much anymore.

Last week I watched a young black woman scream down a man on the Blue Line because he asked her to turn her music down on the train. She screamed at him about being a white dude trying to control the space and he screamed back that this was everyone's space not just hers. It went on like this until I got off the train at Damen and it occurred to me that all of the argute posturing was for show. That, in a planet with 7.5 billion people, only the loudest and most aggressive are seen and heard. In a Facebook world, only the most hysterical, hyperbolic, over-reactive fear-mongering seems to get anyone's attention. And how sad that is.

The new game is instant confrontation. I wrote what I thought was a balanced article about Slam Poetry a few weeks ago and a former Slam Champion decided to post it and call me names instead of converse. He wanted me to take the bait and have an online pissing contest. I refused. My favorite interaction was this:

Him: Have your ever read a book about race theory that you haven't jacked off on first?
Me: Yes.

When the new currency is won by throwing shit at each other, provoking an online fight is the way to go. I'm finding that I don't want to play that game anymore. That emotional intelligence is generally an oxymoron in that emotions tend to cancel out any intelligence in communicating.

I turned to the guy at the bar. "You seem really angry about this."

He spouted some more vitriol about how things are going these days and motherfuckers taking advantage of corporations and that private businesses have the right to refuse service.

"If I was a cab driver and you needed to go someplace and I said you needed to pay up front before I would take you to your destination and you paid me $20 and then I decided to kick you out of my cab because a friend of mine needed to go someplace, that'd be bullshit, I imagine. If you refused to get out of the cab, because maybe you were in a hurry to get someplace, and I called over a couple of cops who then beat you up and dragged you out of the cab, that'd be even worse.

"I don't know. Would it make any difference to you if the guy wasn't Asian? Food for thought, my friend. Food for thought."

And then, like a beautiful Russian gift, Mischa appeared and spent 90 minutes beating me into a puddle of goo.

Did my poorly thought out analogy change his mind? Highly unlikely. At this point, I'm less interested in changing minds than I am presenting a more reasoned tone without ignoring that which I disagree with. It's not easy when both sides of the sociopolitical fringes see me as the enemy but it certainly keeps my blood pressure at a consistent level.